Part One of a two-part series
Part 1: There is mental wellness, within mental illness
by Tina Cole-Mullins and James Clark-Swalla
May marks Mental Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, it comes at a time when mental health issues are at the forefront, as many people suffer through COVID-19 and life changes because of the pandemic.
According to Mental Health America, 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness within their lifetime, and there was a 44% increase last year due to the COVID crisis.
Many are displaying signs of mental duress or crisis for the first time.
“Know you are not alone and know there is mental wellness, within mental illness.”
Why is only a day and month each year focused on such a dire subject? How do we destigmatize something unless we can openly discuss it without judgment and unbiased perceptions on a regular basis?
Almost every day, news reports relay stories of individuals with underlying mental health issues committing horrendous acts. Where are the stories of individuals living everyday lives, within their own mental illness/wellness story?
Local residents including myself, co-writer James Clark-Swalla and several other individuals would like to share our own mental wellness stories in the series “Faces of Mental Wellness.” We want to share how we balance our mental wellness with day-to-day activities, volunteer work and careers throughout the community.
Tina Cole-Mullins interviewed by James Clark-Swalla
How did you go about asking for help?
When I first sought help for myself, I was in my late-20s working in a high-pressure job, facing multiple situational stressors, of which I noticed the instability within myself, and sought out a co-worker familiar with the mental health system and asked for his help. It was the high-pressure job that gave me the ability to see in myself and accessibility to professionals in psychology. I know I am truly lucky to have had this support. It was at this time I was diagnosed and began treatment for bipolar disorder and overlapping disorders that go hand in hand.
What is your biggest take away from this experience when it comes to your mental health?
Mental illness, treatment and stability is all individualized. You and I can have the same diagnosis, we could be family, have taken the same medications, been in the same hospitals and still our experiences would be completely different. I once told one of my psychiatrists, I am not a label, I am not a statistic, I am an individual and a diagnosis does not define me.
What helps you the most when it comes to your mental health?
Self awareness, strong coping skills learned within cognitive behavioral therapy of which I am currently in, and knowing when to adjust those skills need be. A healthy sleep routine and knowing when to disconnect from social media — not only from the internet, but all the stressors around that could trigger my balance and well-being.
James Clark-Swalla interviewed by Tina Cole-Mullins
How old were you when you were first diagnosed with a psychiatric illness?
I must have been 17 or 18. My senior year of high school (during) the last few months of school. The days leading up to the principal’s office I became, as now I know, what is called mania. I did quite a few things to make my teachers concerned for me. They had every reason, too.
I was told that I couldn’t go back to school until I spoke to a therapist. I did, but refused the medicine that was prescribed to me at that time. A few days later, I attended a Town Hall Players production. As I sat in the audience, I felt as if the mania was draining from me. The mania was gone (and) I felt how I did before it all started. The following days were quite rough for me. My mood started to become more depressed. Nothing had the same spark as it once did.
Have you ever been hospitalized for your condition and are you currently in treatment?
Yes. I have been hospitalized five times — the first when I was 17 — all at Chelsea Hospital, which is great but there’s still room for improvements. The staff is very caring. The system isn’t great but there’s far too many places that are pretty dreadful. I’ve been told a lot of horror stories. Some places might make you in a worse head space and perhaps never come back to the person you were before.
• • • •
Finding stability and balance
Throughout our candid interviews and discussion on mental wellness, we had to approach a narrative of having at one point had a moment of uncharacteristic instability within ourselves, opening a dialogue with an engaging question to the public and professionals with varying points of view.
What is stability in your world and what does it mean to you?
“Stability in mental health is similar to structural stability, the foundation is often the most important part of the system and will sustain and support the whole process. In the case of mental health, this foundation needs to be established in safety and compassionate self awareness,” said Shelley Wilson, behavioral health professional and local community member.
“To be ‘mentally stable’ is a journey, not a destination. Life will continually challenge our stability. Our job as humans is to cultivate the ability to respond adaptively and navigate those challenges within a functional range of behaviors, preferably while being kind to ourselves and others,” she added.
We will explore finding stability, balance and well-being in the “Faces of Mental Wellness,” an ongoing feature that will continue in June.
If you feel you may need help, please contact:
- Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry
To make an appointment: 800-525-5188 or Emergency: 734-936-5900
- Michigan Medicine Depression Center
To make an appointment: 800-525-5188 or 734-764-0231
- St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Outpatient Behavioral Health Services 734-593-5250
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 offers a 24-hour crisis line
- The Listening Ear in Lansing 517-337-1717, a 24-hour crisis line.
- Crisis Text Line: Text “Start” to 741-741.